Hmm, I don’t really have anything to say this week. How about I share some links to things that caught my eye?
- Till Human Voices Wake Us by Annie Bellet. I’m currently reading this collection of sci-fi/fantasy short stories. It’s got an interesting variety of speculative elements — and lots of non-white humans, who are always nice to see in sci-fi/fantasy.
- War Dog and Marginalized Populations by Malcom Cross. A pair of novelettes about genetically engineered dog supersoldiers, who have to find a way to fit into human society when there are no more battles to fight. Military fiction isn’t one of my stronger interests but the concept seems like a great way to use anthropomorphic characters.
- The Whacker Chronicles by Stan Grimes. Adult fantasy fiction about a society of pigeons, who deal with very relatable issues.
- To Journey in the Year of the Tiger by H. Leighton Dickson. First book in a saga of genetically altered tigers, lions, wolves and dragons, who picked up the torches of ancient China, India and Japan. Sounds pretty cool to me!
- And, for a non-book entry, the tile-matching game 2048. WARNING: highly addictive.
This past weekend, I attended Furnal Equinox 2014 in Toronto, Ontario. It was my first time at this particular anthopomorphic convention. I had some technical difficulties over the weekend, and my Render reading had less than a handful of attendees (possibly because of its timeslot: 1 PM on Friday, when many of the con-goers had yet to arrive).
But the convention’s atmosphere was great. I chatted up artists and costumers. I participated in a goofy scavenger hunt. I lounged in the hotel’s lobby, reading an ebook and giggling when fursuiters leaned over me to peer at my phone’s screen. Overall, I’d call it an enjoyable weekend!
I also did a lot of thinking while sitting at my dealer’s table, waiting for people to happen by. My biggest life decisions are made while I’m away from home, it seems. So, here goes.
I’ve been giving the Stories of Aligare series the best treatment I’m capable of right now, but its very essence is also its greatest handicap: these are small, odd stories. They’re not thrill-a-minute page-turners. They’re not the kind of book people gobble down in one night and then rave about to all their friends. I firmly believe that quiet stories deserve to exist, and deserve to be read. The tiny little legion of Aligare fans is so meaningful to me — but I think I need to increase my reach as a writer and publisher, or else I’m not doing justice to this goal of mine.
I’ve got other unusual, human-free stories in mind. Some of them I’m holding back because I don’t think I’m ready to execute them well. (I felt kinship in the way Pixar’s WALL-E took years of development and tinkering with the emotional tones. ) But as a writer, I like working with a variety of literary tones and approaches. And Serpents of Sky has gotten a better reception so far than any of the Aligare books. I’m clearly able to write higher-concept stories.
So my next full-length novel won’t be a Story of Aligare. The next story (or stories) I publish will be something with broader appeal. I’ll still twist and subvert fantasy clichés wherever I find them. But I’ll see if I can tell a more crowd-pleasing story, before asking that crowd to give my weirder works a chance.
Stay tuned! I’ll tell you folks what my next book will be as soon as I’m sure myself.
Hey, readers! Whether you just stumbled across me in some Google result today, or you’ve been reading my fiction for years, I’m glad you’re here. Let me tell you what I’m working on for the coming year.
—That short story collection I’ve been talking about. Tentatively titled Serpents of Sky, it’ll have many different spins on dragon mythology. One of these shorts will be a new Story of Aligare about the motherly korvi, Constezza. I predict a February 2014 release, but we’ll see how it goes.
—A tabletop game called Omens of Aligare. My roommate/best friend is a tabletop game enthusiast. He’s been tinkering with the idea of a cards-and-tokens game that’s faithful to the Aligare books — because multi-racial fantasy societies can make for really interesting roleplay games. The Aligare tabletop project picked up steam when some of our other writer friends got involved, and I’ve been offering up ideas and lore that might make the game more fun. All the effort is beginning to pay off!
Playable for 2-6 players (probably), Omens of Aligare is a resource-management game where the players work together against Aligare’s “demons” of natural disaster and illness. The game is in a playable state right now but it still needs adjustments and balancing. We don’t have concrete release plans yet; crowdfunding will likely be involved. I’ll keep you posted if anything happens.
—Two convention stops this year. I’ll be attending Furnal Equinox in Toronto, Ontario for my first time. As well, I’ll be at What The Fur? in Montreal, Quebec for my fourth year running. I’ll have dealer’s tables at both events and I hope to schedule readings, so folks can hear me perform a sample of Render (A story of Aligare). With character voices, of course. You gotta do character voices.
And since we’re very near the end of 2013, I’d also like to mention that Render (A story of Aligare) is eligible for the 2013 Ursa Major Awards.
The Ursa Majors recognise excellence in anthropomorphic art and literature — that’s anything where non-human character(s) plays a significant role. If you’re voting, please keep Render in mind for the Anthropomorphic Novel category! If you’re not voting, then I’d still recommend browsing the Ursa Majors’ recommended list for 2013, as well as previous years’ listings. They’re a helpful compendium of books, artwork and other media featuring non-human characters, with many works coming from independent artists and small presses.
That’s all I have planned for 2014 so far. I’m not sure what I’ll write after Serpents of Sky — maybe another novel in the Stories of Aligare series, or maybe something from a new world. I’ll chew what I’ve got on my plate first.
Hoping to see anything in particular from me in 2014? Doing anything special yourself? Share in the comments!
I’m all for sci-fi/fantasy creatures inspired by real Earth animals. Just look at my own korvi folk, the bird-like dragons based on Earth’s own archosaurs. And look at the strangeness of sea creatures such as the nudibranchs. But we don’t need to look hard for inspiration in the deepest oceans and the distant past. Even a simple grasshopper can challenge what we know to be true about animal life.
Consider, if you will, this Science daily article about insect muscles — or lack thereof.
In a study published today in the journal Current Biology, the researchers show that the structure of some insect leg joints causes the legs to move even in the absence of muscles. So-called ‘passive joint forces’ serve to return the limb back towards a preferred resting position. The passive movements differ in limbs that have different behavioural roles and different musculature, suggesting that the joint structures are specifically adapted to complement muscle forces.
Basically, some sections of insect legs are just hard structures that flex under pressure and spring back into place — like a wooden ruler bent and released. This is more effective than muscle contraction alone when a sharp, powerful motion is needed.
But it certainly challenges our idea that muscles are responsible for movement. Mammals use structures like elastic tendons to store energy for quick movements, but there are further possibilities when an exoskeleton is involved. (And when the creature is as small and light as an Earth insect. As the ant demonstrates when it lifts many times its body weight, physics are less constraining the smaller you are.)
I think ideas like this have enormous potential in SFF writing. Sci-fi obviously delves into real science, hence the genre’s name. But fantasy can use it, too. How better to explain a being’s strange, amazing abilities than to make its body different from a human’s? What could people find if they cut a monster up and examine its parts? Or tend to another race’s wounds?
This is part of why I’m still sketchy on the exact details of my aemet race’s anatomy. I’ve been fascinated by dinosaurs and birds long enough to have a pretty good grasp on how korvi work. And ferrin are ordinary by mammal standards. Aemets, though … I always feel like the Aligare world’s insect/mammal fusions — the betweenkind creatures — should have structures that a human finds alien. Probably some biological tricks I’m not aware of. This idea of leg strength not always coming from muscles? That could very well be one of aemetkind’s secrets. My pacifistic folk could have leg joints more similar to a grasshopper’s than a human’s — the better for them to bolt away from danger.
Ideas like this make me hopeful that speculative fiction will never run out of ways to innovate. When a simple action like jumping can hold mechanical surprises, I don’t think we have any excuse to settle for the same old stuff we’ve been assuming forever.
- Chimera creatures in mythology: why are they so familiar? (heidicvlach.com)
- Flashback post: How I used light and dark magic in the Aligare world (heidicvlach.com)
- Aligare wildlife: the basilisk (heidicvlach.com)
So, I’m back now from What The Fur? 2013, an anthropomorphic (a.k.a. furry) convention in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was the 4th year for the convention, and my 3rd year attending.
Conventions like these are mostly for people who identify as furries — that is, people who don’t feel that their true species is Homo sapiens, in some spiritual or emotional way. There isn’t a hard-and-fast ruling on what defines a furry. Some say you need a non-human avatar to represent yourself (a “fursona”). Others say that just liking anthropomorphic animals in stories is enough to qualify. Personally, I might not have a lot of regard for humans as an overall species but I’m pretty sure I am a human, and I consider myself simply fur-friendly. Which seems to be perfectly acceptable in the convention-going community. I like fantasy stuff that the mainstream considers weird? Cool! Furries do, too! We can spend a weekend hanging out and celebrating it!
(Some costumes, such as Kanthara’s character Vivienne in the above video, have a loose lower jaw that opens when the wearer opens their mouth. A relatively simple rig, mechanically speaking, but isn’t it amazing to see a “real” non-human speaking like that? Whenever I ask a fursuiter if I may take their photo, I’m extra delighted if their costume’s mouth moves when they say, “Sure.”)
So clearly enough, events like these are a far cry from the type of convention where suit-clad businesspeople talk about marketing. What The Fur? always has some organized events such as discussion panels — and I sat on a few of these panels this year, trying to make intelligent points about fantasy fiction without the use of a Backspace key. But this convention is basically a many-faceted social event. The whole point is for people to get together with friends old and new, show off their costumes, play some tabletop games, buy and sell personalized artwork, and speak the excited language of fandom. I go to What The Fur? to sell my books, but also to chat with other adults who consider it normal for a talking weasel to have something to say.
Since I was a teenager, I’ve been attending fan conventions with this same general attitude. At first, it was anime conventions such as Otakon and Anime North (which tend to embrace other media forms such as American animation, and video games). I loved the costuming most of all, that aspect of bringing your favourite character to life. As I began nosing around the publishing industry, I added a few literary conventions to my experience, beginning with Worldcon 2010. Those were alright, if a little …calm by my standards. Now, I’m mostly setting up my dealer’s tables at furry conventions. Anthropomorphism is a concept I enjoy a lot, and there are few greater joys than sharing enjoyment with other fannish folks.
- Time to pretend (tech.mit.edu)
- Interview with Indie Author Land: Render (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- The role of emotion in Aligare magic (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
Busy, busy! I’m at my annual convention this weekend, a (relatively) small anthropomorphics meet in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. There’s plenty going on! I’m staffing my own sale table the majority of the time, and when I’m not doing that I’m on some discussion panels.
It’s my third year attending What The Fur? and I do have fun. And I’ll tell you folks more about it later; right now I could use some sleep.